WASHINGTON — President Obama is on a two-week vacation in Martha’s Vineyard as wars rage across the Middle East and Ukraine, terrorists threaten to topple Iraq and Republicans are on the brink of capturing the Senate.
Around the country, a deepening mood of anger and anxiety permeates America’s electorate, with the midterm elections a mere three months away.
And in a brewing political civil war among Democrats, Hillary Clinton has unleashed a sharp attack on Obama’s timid foreign policy, calling for a more muscular response to the spread of global terrorism.
The president’s job approval scores remain in the low 40s and show no signs of improvement as voters remain angry about jobs, incomes, budget deficits and a rash of disturbing government scandals that have exposed an incompetent and corrupt administration.
“There is a lot of angst about whether this country is continuing to provide an opportunity to live the American dream,” says Democrat Ted Strickland, former governor of Ohio. “The overarching concern is an economy that is not providing an opportunity for working people.”
Hurtling toward the fall elections, the Democrats’ political prospects, and Obama’s presidency, are sinking fast. Republicans have a political lock on the House and have a better than even chance of taking over the Senate, where they need only six seats to make Harry Reid the minority leader.
Last week, those chances improved significantly when Democratic Sen. John Walsh of Montana announced he will not seek election in the wake of a story, broken by the New York Times, that he had plagiarized portions of a paper he wrote at the U.S. Army War College.
According to the Times, the six recommendations he made in a foreign policy study were “taken nearly word-for-word without attribution from a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace document on the same topic.”
Democrats will choose a new candidate next week, but the chances of mounting a credible campaign and raising enough money to be competitive are bleak. Before the scandal broke, polls showed GOP Rep. Steve Daines running ahead of Walsh by double digits.
This means Democrats are behind the eight ball in at least three seats their party held, but that are now open due to retirements: Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota (and to some extent, a fourth in Iowa).
So Republicans will need just three more seats to take control, and there were at least five (and possibly a dozen) competitive contests to get them there: Colorado, North Carolina, Louisiana, Alaska and Arkansas.
What is the coming midterm campaign going to look like when it gets underway on Labor Day weekend? No doubt Obama will be fully engaged, but he is no longer the political force he once was. Indeed, many Democrats will not want to be seen with him in red states like South Dakota, Louisiana, West Virginia or Montana, to name but a few.
Democrats are desperately sinking piles of money into voter turnout to counter the GOP wave, but their turnout will be well below what it was in 2012. Voter intensity is stronger in the GOP, and even among independent voters, than it is among Democrats. That’ll be an overriding factor on Nov. 4.
Next will be the Democrats’ message, if they have one that resonates. Right now, it doesn’t appear they do.
Obama ground-tested several carnival-barker pitches this year — including income inequality — only to discover they didn’t resonate with voters. Neither does Obama’s insistence that the economy is doing much better since the recession. Many Americans — including large numbers who have dropped out of the workforce, or who are in part-time jobs but need full-time work — do not believe that for a moment.
Then there’s the pessimism factor. No matter what he says about an improving economy, he hasn’t been able to persuade skeptical Americans who believe that economic conditions will be worse in the future. Recent Gallup surveys reported that confidence in the U.S. economy fell significantly last month.
Obama will continue to rail against Republicans in Congress for not acting on his threadbare agenda, or, as he claims, not offering any legislation of their own to deal with the country’s problems.
In truth, House Republicans have sent more than 300 pieces of legislation to the Senate, where they have been summarily shelved by Reid.
Obama wants voters to think that it’s the Republicans in the House who are holding things up, as he threatens to take executive action with or without Congress’ support.
It is all play-acting, of course. Over the decades, most of the bills the House sent to the Senate have been routinely placed in limbo, according to GovTrack.us, which has studied the legislative flow.
The website’s findings: More than 50 percent of the bills sent to the Senate in 11 of the last 19 Congresses had not received action by the time Congress finished its business and went home.
The Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom, gave us a lengthy, delay-prone legislative system filled with plenty of procedural obstacles to keep bad bills from becoming law. What Obama’s complaining about is that Congress won’t pass his bad laws.
But what about the GOP’s election agenda? That’s not getting anywhere near the public attention it deserves. That’s partly because the national news media tends to ignore Republican proposals or distorts what they would do, and partly because the GOP leadership has done a poor job of explaining, promoting and selling its ideas.
A national TV ad campaign explaining how its ideas would unlock the power of job-creating capital through tax reform, expand trade, lower gas prices, cut the deficit and step up new business formation would be a good place to start. Backed up, of course, by its candidates.